In the Deseret News publication Mormon Times, journalist Joel Campbell wrote commentators finding the Mormon Church’s support of California’s Proposition 8 “ironic” is itself ironic. I disagree. There is plenty of irony there.
The ballot measure, which passed Tuesday, defines marriage in California’s constitution as between a man and a woman. The irony some commentators see, as illustrated by Campbell, isn’t on target. The church no longer practices polygamy. And likening the persecution same-sex marriage supporters get now to what the LDS pioneers saw in the 19th century is at least a stretch in terms of degree. The church is backing a democratic ballot measure. It’s not legalizing the extermination of those who would marry someone of the same gender.
But by the definition of irony Campbell himself offers, the church‘s support does indeed demonstrate irony. Campbell wrote, “By definition, to have irony you need to have incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.”
On the most basic level, a church that once embraced a tweaked version of marriage, polygamy, now approving laws against another version, same-sex, could easily be seen as what’s expected being disconnected from what occurs.
Campbell responds to a Washington Post-Newsweek blogger who made that case by writing, “For us Mormons, the blogger could have just as well asserted that he found it ironic that Catholics support peace because Catholics once supported the Crusades.”
It’s a tempting argument, but the problem is that Catholics themselves argue among themselves about the rightness of the Crusades. Those wars have their defenders, too, but few today would argue for a similar campaign. They would think it wrong.
No one in the LDS church, no one who is intent on remaining in good standing in the church, is arguing for the reinstatement of polygamy, either. But I joined the church at age 11 and the adults talked openly about the possible return of the practice one day. Some still talk as if it might happen, as distasteful as that may sound. Our temple marriages reflect that belief in that a man can be sealed to more than one woman, but the same is not true of women being sealed to men.
The LDS church does not teach that polygamy is wrong, except that it violates the law. It was the vision of the destruction of the church entirely that was the large factor in the church’s decision to abandon the practice, not any recognition that the practice itself was unholy.
Among the church’s resources for journalists on the Internet is a publication of a Q&A from the Los Angeles Times and another primer on polygamy. From the
Q&A in the Times:
“Question: Is polygamy gone forever from the Church?
We only know what the Lord has revealed through His prophets, that plural marriage has been stopped in the Church. Anything else is speculative and unwarranted.”
From the primer:
“. . . the standard of the Lord’s people is monogamy unless the Lord reveals otherwise.”
So the church’s position is that monogamy, one man and one woman, is the rule unless God wants it otherwise. This is the sticky point. In the blog Campbell references, LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks acknowledges that if you don’t recognize revelation, communication from God dictating the activities of those in His church, then the irony is “profound.”
Further ironic is that the ballot measure not only affected gay marriages, which the church teaches is wrong, it constitutionally outlaws polygamy, which the church does not practice but also does not categorically condemn.
So what’s prohibiting the church from practicing marriage as it might see fit is now the California constitution, based on an amendment the church itself supported. That God would accept polygamy being illegal in order to prevent gay marriage from becoming legal is a point you could argue, but there is most certainly room to recognize the irony.